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Doremus Avenue Reconstruction and Bridge Replacement

In 1994 the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) selected Parsons Brinckerhoff for the design of the replacement of the Doremus Avenue Bridge over Conrail's Oak Island Railroad Yard in Essex County, New Jersey. The bridge spans over thirty-three (33) active rail tracks. This rail yard is one of the busiest yards east of the Mississippi River. Doremus Avenue provides the primary north-south access along the City of Newark's waterfront industrial area east of the NJ Turnpike and also serves as a primary access to and from the shipping terminals located in Port Newark and Port Elizabeth. These ports are major facilities located within New York-New Jersey harbors.

The existing bridge, originally built in 1918, was functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. It has two lanes and an AADT of over 8,500 vehicles, with over 40% of the total traffic consisting of heavy trucks. The north abutment was reinforced in 1919 with the construction of an additional section of footing on piles placed in front of the just-built full height wall to contain lateral movement due to substantial settlement. Differential settlement had also occurred throughout the entire length of the bridge. Most of the settlement appears to have occurred just after the completion of the original bridge. This settlement is attributed to an undetected soft compressible layer of clay and organic peat beneath an upper layer of sand and silt, into which the original timber piles were driven. The entire superstructure was raised in 1929 to provide additional vertical track clearance. The current structure's profile is like riding on a roller coaster.

An interesting historical side note to this bridge is that the eighteen (18) independent simple span through-girders structures [which vary in length and size] were transplanted from other railroad structure sites throughout the Northeast corridor area by two railroad companies, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Lehigh Valley Railroad, each of which were responsible for half of the bridge's construction.

The new bridge will be 401m (1,315') in length and the overall project improvement limit is 1,755 m (5,758') in length. The superstructure consists of three 3-span continuous welded plate girder units. The curb-to-curb width of the roadway and bridge will be 19.2m (63'), consisting of two 3.6m (12') lanes and a 2.4m (8') shoulder in each direction. The roadway width will increase to 22.8m (75'). The bridge cross-section includes a 2.1m (7') extension beyond the bridge parapet of the west fascia to carry a 610mm (24") diameter water main and a 254mm (10") diameter sanitary sewer force main across the bridge.

The proposed south approach roadway grade rises from the relatively flat 0.610 percent to 3.90 percent, and then flattens slightly to 3.682 percent to the crest of the bridge. The north approach roadway grade falls from the crest of the bridge at 4.244 percent and flattens slightly to 4.045 percent before reaching the base of the bridge at 0.615 percent.

During the Final Scope Development and preliminary design phases of the project, NJDOT design practice specified the use of working stress design (WSD). With the introduction of AASHTO's Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD) specifications, the Department decided to evaluate the merits of this new design methodology through the redesign of the Doremus Avenue Bridge Replacement project. This was the first time that the LFRD specification was used in New Jersey.

Some interesting facts learned from the design and during construction are:

  • NJDOT used this project as a pilot program to establish the state's LRFD criteria for use on the Doremus Avenue Bridge replacement and for all future bridge designs within the state.

  • Anticipated settlement on the south approach embankment (> 3') was addressed with a substantial wick drain program combined with a 16-month surcharge period and the use of Lightweight Cellular Concrete Fill material (a First in the state).

  • The pier foundations are 6-shaft, 1220mm (48") diameter drilled caissons approximately 27m (90') in length and socketed 3m (10') into the rock layer.

  • In collaboration with Rutgers University, one of the 3-span continuous units and its associated substructure units will be fully instrumented to monitor actual stress levels, both during and after completion of the structure, for three years. In addition, a Weigh-In-Motion system will be permanently installed in the south approach roadway to accurately gather vehicle loading information. The information collected will be used to compare the actual stress levels in the structure against the original LRFD anticipated levels. If conclusive evidence is found that actual stress levels are significantly different from those anticipated, the current LRFD specification may be modified to reflect more accurate structural element responses.

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